I had a horrendous nightmare last night. You know, one of those that wakes you up and makes it impossible to go back to sleep. It was one of those nightmares that snuggling up next to my completely zonked husband just didn’t seem to make it all better. So, I roamed the house for nearly an hour, trying to get my mind off the dream. When I finally crawled back into bed, my sweet husband woke up, grabbed my hand, and asked if everything was okay. I told him that I had a horrendous nightmare, and he wrapped his arm around me and pulled me to him. In that instant, I finally felt tired again. There’s so much more comfort in the sleepy embrace of my husband when he does it knowing that something was wrong. I felt safe again, and my mind quickly turned off, allowing me to fall back into a deep sleep.
All my life I have been plagued with nightmares. They never seem to escape me, and I almost always remember them. I still remember dreams I had when I was six years old. They don’t occur as much, but I have noticed that they usually pop up more often during pregnancy and whenever my husband is gone for training or deployment. I’ve often wondered what drives my unusual tendency toward nightmares. I actually wrote an essay about my nightmares in college, for a writing class. So, I figured I’d share that with you all.
Demons of the Night
I had a fear. I like to convince myself it doesn’t exist anymore, but it still plagues me once in a while. It used to paralyze me, both physically and mentally. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was collapse on a windowsill and cry.
I was a short, chunky kid who swam around in hand-me-downs much too big for me. At least, I felt like I was swimming. I always did. If I wasn’t drowning in large clothing, I was drowning in life. Everything seemed too big for me. I wasn’t a brave child by any means, although I acted like it. When people watched me, they thought, “Boy, that girl has gumption.” I appeared brave. I did all the brave things. I was the one to jump off flying swings. I flipped over the high monkey bars. I traversed through the dark rooms to find the light switch on the opposite end. Yet, I was the most afraid, but no one knew.
Anytime my fear arose, it grappled my gut, making me nauseous. My lungs constricted and breathing was arduous. I became light-headed. I felt fragile, but stiff. Inwardly, I couldn’t move. Despite what my body was doing, my mind screamed at me to stop, to run away, to pull myself out of the situation. My body never listened.
All this was due to nightmares. Anything would set them off: a scary movie, darkness, ghost stories, anything. I had a ritual each night. Standing at least three feet from my bed, I squatted down on my little legs, low enough to peek under the bed. When all appeared clear, I leaped toward the bed, wrestling with the covers till I was safely bound between blanket and mattress.
Although I was safe, I wouldn’t shut my eyes. I couldn’t shut my eyes. I couldn’t allow the freakish scenes to begin. I wouldn’t permit my mind to go off into a place beyond my control. I knew that once my weary eye-gates collapsed, my conscience snapped open to a frightful world. No one could rescue me from that place, no one. Not even myself. My nightmares were reality to me. When I physically awakened, my brain continued to press its subconscious replay button. Whatever occurred in my dreams, I was convinced would happen in real life.
I nervously glanced over my shoulder half-expecting a monster on my heels. I slouched in school, dreading the impending embarrassment. My bus rides home included imaginations of fatal car accidents involving family. These were my nightmares. They followed me everywhere like a fictitious leech. I couldn’t escape them. So, I decided if I had to live with my nightmares during the day, then I would keep them from grappling me in the night. In my mind it was a guarantee. If I had a nightmare during sleep, it affected my life the following day. I wouldn’t be permissive. I wouldn’t allow the opportunity to arise.
Apart from refusing to shut my eyes once in bed, I avoided my bedroom altogether. I knew if I was to climb into bed, I was one step closer to the pillow of slumber. If I was to even walk across the threshold of my bedroom, I was one step closer to my bed. I had this preconceived idea that sleeping with someone would ward off the demons of the night. Being the second youngest of five children, I did share a room with the baby (hardly the best companion when waking up in a cold sweat). It wasn’t the same. I needed protection.
Just knowing that I would have a nightmare, I stood in the doorway of my sisters’ bedroom and with tears printing wayward trails down my cheeks, I pleaded for permission to sleep with them. They barked at me to go away, saying, “You couldn’t possibly have had a nightmare yet. You didn’t even go to sleep to give it a chance to happen.” They didn’t understand. They just didn’t know. I feared sleep. That was just it. I couldn’t let myself sleep. Sleep was my enemy. In my mind, sleep dined with the night hag. Those nightmares affected my everyday life.
One time, as a seven year old, I heard my mom leave to go grocery shopping. With my nose pressed against the window, I tearfully watched the van drive off. I wanted to be with her. I had to be with her. A couple nights before, I had a bad dream of her being in a car accident. I sat at the window, bawling, completely sure that my nightmare was bound to be made true. To me, my mother wasn’t safe until she was home where I could see her.
As I became older, my monsters developed. Grisly monstrosities wereno longer chasing me. I was now a paralytic to failure, to being the object of ridicule, to losing friends. All my extant fears played out in the dark of sleep. They still do sometimes. I find myself avoiding confrontations. I won’t look at a grade on some paper for fear of failure. I divert from embarrassing possibilities. I fear the worst because I have dreamt the worst. Although I don’t recall dreams as often, the night demons still tackle me from time to time. In my world of delusion, I have had to force myself to remember the fine line between imaginary and reality.